Host it, and they will come. Build it, supply it or service it? That’s another question.
As Buffalo’s field of dreams grows along the waterfront and Medical Campus, some involved in the long struggle to get minority-owned businesses a share of the action say the answer increasingly is “yes.”
Maybe that explains the turnout this week when Global Spectrum, the company managing Canalside, held an outreach meeting in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center to lay out some of the business opportunities. About half of the more than 50 entrepreneurs who showed up were black.
It was the second such meeting the company has held since being hired by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. in January. The temptation is to dismiss such events as dog-and-pony shows – until you hear stories such as Anita Sanders’.
Sanders went to the first meeting in March, heard about the opportunity to supply everything from food and uniforms to paper products and cleaning supplies, and then posed an inquiry. “I just asked the question, ‘Do you need security?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ and it went on from there,” said Sanders, who used her experience as a Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police officer and her master’s degree in management to start Trace Assets Protection Service two years ago.
Now she has a contract with Canalside for Thursdays at the Square and weekend events, guarding everything from ticket receipts to bank deposits.
Her advice to other minorities looking to get a foot in the door? “Make sure you follow through … and go to the meetings,” she said, echoing the advice of Jennifer Parker, who was hired by Eric Mower + Associates to put together an outreach effort to minority and female entrepreneurs for Canalside.
“Get your face out there, know what’s going on,” said Parker, the Black Capital Network president. “People do business with people they know and like.”
That networking – formerly known as “the old boys club” – has historically been one of the impediments to minority participation, making it a challenge to bridge the gap now between opportunity and the entrepreneurs who need it.
“I’m hoping to bridge the connection with the classes that I’m doing,” said Janique Curry, minority and women business enterprise compliance coordinator for Erie County Medical Center.
She’s preparing a free course to start next month to help businesses become state-certified under Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises to seek contracts at ECMC and elsewhere.
“The key is to have people really understand that there’s true opportunity there,” Curry said.
Parker ticks off the names of others besides Sanders who have gotten business from Canalside, and Curry makes the rounds of community events looking for entrepreneurs.
Not that anyone is ready to hang a “mission accomplished” banner just because data shows the state surpassing its 20 percent goal for MWBE contracts. Talk to minority entrepreneurs privately, and they still complain of everything from paperwork being “lost” to phone calls not being returned.
But the turnout at event’s such as Global Spectrum’s suggest a willingness to hope that this time, things might be different. That when it comes to recognizing the economic benefits of diversity for Western New York’s economy, some Buffalo leaders finally do “get it.”